Iran’s Interest in Russian Satellite ‘Not Particularly Concerning’ to US Security, CENTCOM Chief Tells VOA

Iran’s reported desire to purchase a Russian advanced satellite system is not “particularly concerning” to U.S. security in the region, according to the commander who oversees U.S. military operations in the Middle East.   In an interview with VOA, Gen. Frank McKenzie, commander of U.S. Central Command, said Russia’s Kanopus-V satellite is not effective at targeting. “You really can’t do much with it,” he said. “It would probably allow them to see something the size of a school bus, which is not going to be particularly concerning to us.” Earlier this month, U.S. and Middle East officials told The Washington Post that Iranian military officials have been deeply involved in the satellite acquisition and have made multiple trips to Russia since 2018 to work on an agreement to buy the system. While the Kanopus-V is marketed for civilian use, Iranian military officials have been heavily involved in the acquisition, and leaders of Iran’s elite Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps have made multiple trips to Russia since 2018 to help negotiate the terms of the agreement, the officials said. The Koanupus-V is marketed for civilian use, and McKenzie said some commercial imagery options provide better visuals than what the satellite’s high-resolution camera could capture.   “While it might seem attractive to put it (the satellite) into space on a Russian rocket, if that’s the way they want to spend their money and do it, they should go ahead,” he said.    Drone Attacks   Meanwhile, Iranian-backed militia have continued to attack U.S. and NATO forces in Iraq with small, armed drones.    “We’ve been attacked three times over the last little over a month,” McKenzie said. He and other military officials have told VOA that Iran has shifted to using compact, kinetic attacks because their armed drones can cause damage to U.S. resources without amassing casualties, keeping the threat just below a level that might spark retaliation from the United States. “It’s a very dangerous path that they’re on,” warned McKenzie, “and they’re doing it because, as we should remember, they failed and their principal aim, which was a political objective of having us leave Iraq.”   
 
The military is still conducting forensic analysis right now to determine exactly where the drones used in the latest attacks on U.S. forces originated. 

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Turkey’s Marmara Sea in Battle Against ‘Sea Snot’

Turkey’s Sea of Marmara is battling an explosion of sea algae, dubbed sea snot, which is now threatening an ecological disaster. As Dorian Jones reports for VOA from Istanbul, the mucus-like substance is fast becoming politically toxic as well.

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People Hurt by Parachuting Protester at Euro 2020 Game

Several spectators were treated in the hospital for injuries caused by a protester who parachuted into the stadium before France played Germany at the European Championship, UEFA said Tuesday.Debris fell on the field and main grandstand, narrowly missing France coach Didier Deschamps, when the parachutist struck wires for an overhead camera attached to the stadium roof.The governing body of European soccer called it a “reckless and dangerous” act and said “law authorities will take the necessary action.””This inconsiderate act … caused injuries to several people attending the game who are now in hospital,” UEFA said.The incident happened just before the start of the Euro 2020 match between the last two World Cup champions. Deschamps was shown ducking into the team dugout to avoid falling debris.France won the match, 1-0.”We as the German soccer federation condemn it of course, because it wasn’t just him, but others that he endangered and injured. It’s unacceptable from our point of view,” German team spokesman Jens Grittner said. “And the incident is being checked by the police, the authorities here in Munich and at UEFA. But of course we also condemn what happened there. It could probably have turned out much worse.”The protester’s parachute had the slogan “KICK OUT OIL!” and “Greenpeace” written on it.He glided into the stadium and seemed to lose control after connecting with the wires. He veered away from the playing area toward the main grandstand and barely cleared the heads of spectators.The parachutist managed to land on the field and Germany players Antonio Rüdiger and Robin Gosens were the first to approach him. He was led away by security stewards and given medical attention on the side of the field.UEFA and one of its top-tier tournament sponsors, Russian state energy firm Gazprom, have previously been targeted by Greenpeace protests.In 2013, a Champions League game in Basel was disrupted when Greenpeace activists abseiled from the roof of the stadium to unfurl a banner protesting Russian oil and Gazprom, which sponsored the visiting team, German club Schalke.Greenpeace later donated money to a charity supported by Basel, which was fined by UEFA for the security lapse.UEFA defended its environmental credentials in Tuesday’s statement.”UEFA and its partners are fully committed to a sustainable Euro 2020 tournament,” UEFA said, “and many initiatives have been implemented to offset carbon emissions.”

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Biden Agenda for US-EU Summit to Include Coronavirus, Climate and Trade

Battling the coronavirus pandemic and climate change, as well as working together on trade and foreign affairs are on the agenda Tuesday as U.S. President Joe Biden and European Union leaders hold a summit in Brussels. In statements issued ahead of the talks, the two sides said they would reiterate support for the COVAX facility for ensuring equitable access to COVID-19 vaccines, and to work together on ways to promote a global recovery from the economic impacts of the pandemic. They also planned to discuss efforts to reform the World Health Organization. After both were a major topic at G-7 and NATO meetings this week, Russia and China will again be on the agenda Tuesday.  Both the White House and European Union said the leaders would also express a commitment to supporting democracy and combatting corruption, and to upholding human rights around the world. They are also pledging to cooperate on issues involving cybersecurity and migration. The EU side is being represented in the summit by European Council President Charles Michel and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen. On climate change, the United States and the EU said they would reaffirm commitments to upholding the 2015 Paris climate agreement and to become climate neutral economies by 2050. They also said they plan to urge other “major players” to take ambitious climate actions. Adopted by nearly 200 nations when it was initially signed, the Paris climate agreement’s goal is to slow down global warming.  

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Britain Delays Plans to Lift COVID-19 Lockdowns

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has delayed plans to lift coronavirus restrictions by a month because of the highly contagious Delta variant, first identified in India. Johnson said on Monday that restrictions will now be lifted on July 19 instead of June 21.  “I think it is sensible to wait just a little longer,” he told a news conference in London. Johnson said he is confident that the country will be able to reopen on July 19, noting that by then two-thirds of the British population are expected to be fully vaccinated. FILE – Britain’s Prime Minister Boris Johnson visits a coronavirus vaccination site at the Business Design Centre in Islington, London, Britain, May 18, 2021.”It’s unmistakably clear the vaccines are working, and the sheer scale of the vaccine rollout has made our position incomparably better than in previous waves,” he said. On Monday, the British government reported 7,742 new confirmed coronavirus cases, and Johnson said cases are growing by about 64% per week. The Delta variant of the coronavirus now accounts for 90% of new cases in Britain.  In other countriesMeanwhile, Zimbabwe is reintroducing a lockdown in an attempt to contain the spread of a COVID-19 outbreak.   Vice President Constantino Chiwenga said in a televised speech this weekend that complacency has resulted in a spike in COVID-19 cases.  FILE – Shops in a Delhi market gear up to open, June 7, 2021, after a devastating second wave shut the city for nearly two months. (Anjana Pasricha/VOA)In India, a number of states eased coronavirus restrictions on Monday, including the capital Delhi, as the number of new infections dropped to the lowest level in 74 days. The country reported 70,421 new COVID-19 cases in the previous 24-hour period, the lowest since March 31. Public health officials have cautioned that India’s tolls may be undercounted. Novavax trials  Also Monday, U.S.-based biotech company Novavax announced that Phase 3 clinical trials of its COVID-19 vaccine show it more than 90% effective at preventing the disease and providing good protection against variants.  The Novavax vaccine, which is easy to store and transport, is expected to play an important role in boosting vaccine supplies in the developing world. The White House’s top adviser on the pandemic, Dr. Anthony Fauci, told The Washington Post the vaccine is “really very impressive,” saying it is on par with the most effective shots developed during the pandemic. Vaccination requirement lawsuitA federal judge in the U.S. state of Texas on Saturday dismissed a lawsuit challenging a hospital’s COVID-19 vaccine requirement for its employees.   U.S. District Judge Lynn Hughes in the Southern District of Texas wrote that the employees of Houston Methodist Hospital “are not participants in a human trial.” He said, “Methodist is trying to do their business of saving lives without giving them the Covid-19 virus.” According to the Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center, the United States has had the highest number of coronavirus cases, at 33.5 million, followed by India, with 29.5 million coronavirus infections, and Brazil, with 17.4 million COVID-19 cases.    

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NATO Reaffirms Strength of Alliance, Calls Out Russia, China

The 30 member states of NATO ended their Monday summit in Brussels, reaffirming the military alliance with a strong statement against Russia and to a lesser degree, China.Both countries were called out as “challenges to the rules-based international order.”In the NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg speaks during a media conference at a NATO summit in Brussels, June 14, 2021.“By agreeing (on) the NATO 2030 agenda, leaders have taken decisions to make our alliance stronger and better fit for the future,” said Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg during a press conference at the end of the summit. We just concluded a successful #NATOSummit where we took far-reaching decisions for our security. Europe & North America are standing strong together in #NATO to defend our values & interests in an age of global competition. #NATO2030https://t.co/iZW0TUgw9Kpic.twitter.com/mh5sPmDqEL
— Jens Stoltenberg (@jensstoltenberg) Russian President Vladimir Putin speaks to NBC News journalist Keir Simmons, back to a camera, in an interview aired on June 14, 2021, two days before the Russian leader is to meet U.S. President Joe Biden in Geneva.ChinaStoltenberg said China’s growing military presence from the Baltics to Africa means NATO has to be prepared.”China is coming closer to us. We see them in cyber space, we see China in Africa, but we also see China investing heavily in our own critical infrastructure,” the NATO secretary general said.China is “the new the new kid on the block,” said Alice Billon-Galland, a research fellow at London-based Chatham House, and part of NATO Young Leaders selected to advise the NATO 2030 process.Billon-Galland said European allies need to work with both the U.S. and China but ultimately want to avoid being dragged into a binary Washington vs Beijing confrontation.“European allies are quite careful in terms of how they approach this and a bit reluctant for NATO to get too involved in China-related issues or Indo-Pacific issues,” she said.NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, center-right, opens a plenary session during a NATO summit at the alliance’s headquarters in Brussels June 14, 2021.A day earlier many of the same leaders now meeting in Brussels issued a statement at the conclusion of the G-7 Summit in Cornwall, U.K., calling out China’s human rights abuses. Beijing has accused the group of slandering its reputation.Afghanistan withdrawalAfter 20 years of military operations, NATO and the U.S. had agreed that they will withdraw forces from Afghanistan. Biden had set September 11th 2021, as the pull-out deadline.“NATO leaders reaffirmed their commitment to continue to stand with Afghanistan, with training, international support for Afghan forces and institutions, and funding to ensure the continued functioning of the International Airport,” said Stoltenberg.NATO has about 10.000 troops in Afghanistan, from countries including Germany, the U.K., Turkey, Georgia, Romania and Italy.Allies are concerned about security at their embassies as well as the Kabul Airport. Turkey, a NATO member, has offered to secure the airport in a bid to increase its role in the alliance.FILE – Foreign troops with NATO-led Resolute Support Mission investigate at the site of a suicide attack in Kabul, Afghanistan, Sept. 5, 2019.“The question is whether Turkey’s willingness to do this, which is clearly welcomed in Washington, would be sufficient to overcome the other issues in the relationship,” said Bulent Aliriza, director of the Turkey Project at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. “There are serious doubts about that,” he said.Guarding and operating the Kabul airport issue is among the many security topics discussed by President Biden in his Monday bilateral meeting with President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. U.S.-Turkey relationship has been problematic, particularly after Ankara’s purchase of Russian S-400 missile defense system, its military offensive in Syria and support for Azerbaijan in the 2020 Nagorno-Karabakh war with Armenia.America is backBiden took his ‘America is Back’ message to Brussels, reaffirming the United States’ commitment to the alliance’s collective defense principle.“I just want all of Europe to know that the United States is there. The United States is there,” Biden said in his meeting with Stoltenberg.Our NATO Alliance is stronger than ever. Today I’m joining our 29 allies to discuss our collective defense — including from Russian aggression, strategic challenges from China, malicious cyber activity, terrorism, and climate change.
— President Biden (@POTUS) June 14, 2021Biden’s visit sets a new tone on relations with the military alliance. His predecessor, former President Donald Trump once called NATO obsolete and complained that the U.S. was paying an unfair share in the organization.Asked by a reporter if he is concerned that the return of Trump or a Trump-like figure might swing U.S. posture back away from the alliance, NATO’s Stoltenberg said the past four years had underscored the importance of strong multilateral institutions.“There will be different political leaders elected in many allied countries in the years to follow,” he said. “I’m confident that as long as we realize that it is in our security interest to stand together, national security interest to stand together, we will maintain NATO as the bedrock for our security.”NATO’s last Strategic Concept was in 2010. Allies were reluctant to renew it during the rocky years under Trump. 

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US-Russian Leaders to Meet in Geneva Amid Bilateral Tensions

President Biden and Russian leader Vladimir Putin meet in Geneva on June 16 — for the first time since Biden took office in January. As Charles Maynes reports from Moscow, the two leaders are expected to discuss ways to normalize relations that have become increasingly tense.Camera: Ricardo Marquina Montanana
Produced by: Jason Godman

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Biden Prepares to Address Differences with Russia’s Putin

U.S. President Joe Biden’s summit this week with Russian President Vladimir Putin is expected to focus on improving relations between Washington and Moscow over a host of issues, including cyberattacks from people operating from Russia. Michelle Quinn reports.Produced by: Barry Unger    

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